Tuesday, November 30, 2010

261. The Circle Series Graphic Novel by Ted Dekker

The Circle Series: The Visual Edition of Black, Red, and White by Ted Dekker (Canada) - (USA)
The Circles Series

Pages: 416
Ages: 14+
Finished: Nov. 22, 2010
First Published: Dec. 29 2009
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: YA, fantasy, urban fantasy, christian fiction, graphic novel
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

One of the benefits of the last shift at the Java Hut: free caffeine ...

Acquired: Received a review copy from Thomas Nelson.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

Ted Dekker is one of my favourite authors and I was very excited to read this as I haven't read any of his fantasy yet, meaning I hadn't read the original novels this graphic novel was based on either. Absolutely amazing story. Part fantasy and part urban fantasy. Thomas Hunter is nicked in the head with a bullet and starting from that point on whenever he falls asleep he travels between two realities. One a medieval sort of world where evil is fast encroaching upon good and he is the one who can find the answer to saving the world by finding the long lost Books of Histories and travelling into the other reality gain information. While in the modern world he realizes that the two worlds are somehow connected through him and here he may be the only one with the answer to a terrorist who is unleashing a deadly virus on the world if his demands for nuclear submission from the entire planet are not met. Eventually Thomas starts dreaming on purpose to travel between worlds, sometimes needing a bash over the head or a sedative to get to sleep quickly.

In the alternative Earth, good and evil are much more visible than they are in the modern reality but as Thomas travels he never knows which one is the dream and which one is the reality. Ultimately this is a fantastic Christian allegory of the Gospels, the Passion of Christ and the power of Baptism. An utterly thrilling story on many levels. Often reading like an episode of 24 when in the modern reality. There is the president under pressure, terrorists, kidnapped scientists and such but on the other hand when in the alternate reality it reads more like a grown-up, more violent Narnia-like story and how the two combine makes for a riveting read. The artwork is topnotch. Beautiful, dark and bold whichever is needed to represent the mood. Overall, a stunning piece of allegorical Christian fantasy.

Of course, the original novels are written for adults, but I would classify this graphic novel as a cross-over suitable for both adults and young adults. There is a young adult set of novels that compliments the series that are being turned into GNs as well. I think at this time 4 of the 6 books have been done. I'll wait for an omnibus edition like this one.

I enjoyed this so much that my next foray into Dekker's backlist is going to be this series, which also has a 4th book (Green), and all it's various offshoot series.

Monday, November 29, 2010

260. Hope for Hard Times by Scott Hahn

Hope for Hard Times (30-Minute Read) by Scott Hahn
Available at The Catholic Company

Pages: 63
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 20, 2010
First Published: Sept. 8, 2009
Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor
Genre: non-fiction, inspirational, Catholic, Christian
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

All St. Teresa of Avila wanted to do was to live a life of simple poverty and prayer.

Acquired: Received a review copy from The Catholic Book Company.

Reason for Reading: I picked this book up simply because it was by Scott Hahn, not because I was going through any particular "Hard Time", though I was/am dealing with an ongoing health issues. However just as I had started to read this book I put it down for a short while as it hit too close to home as a health issue became more serious and I was (am) experiencing what the book calls hard times. Then, when I was ready, I picked it up again.

This is a brief little book; small enough to fit in your purse or a coat pocket and believe me it is one you will want to carry around with you as it is filled with little gems of wisdom and advice. Scott Hahn shows us through Scripture and the words of the early saints that life. is. hard. It is supposed to be hard; but we can deal with it because God loves us. The hard times will end and it is even possible to rejoice in suffering as Hahn reminds us with gems of wisdom such as "If we didn't have the hard times, we wouldn't know God loved us."

Hahn talks of the suffering in the Old Testament, God loves us even when he says no, we are often tested in our faith by the hard times, it's OK to complain *to* God,"he can take it", just not *about* God, (over 40% of the psalms are complaining). All this is filled with wonderful quotes from scripture, the saints, and Hahn's own insightful one-liners. Then he tells us where to get our strength from, God's strength, the strength of Jesus, that never leaves us if we are there to receive it. This little gem will be in my purse and is already starting to show wear from how many times I've re-read certain parts. Highly recommended.

The Catholic Company is also a great source for first communion gifts and baptism gifts.

Monday: Books in the Mail

A busy mailbox last week brought me a variety of books though still mostly graphic novels.

From publishers for Cybils consideration:

Adventure, Romance, Mad Science! Agatha has finally made it to her ancestral castle, but so has a whole crowd of her friends - and enemies! Worse, the lives of two them are in danger, unless she can get the Castle's power source back up and running-quick!

Chocolate or Vanilla? This simple choice is all it takes to get started with Meanwhile, the wildly inventive creation of comics mastermind Jason Shiga, of whom Scott McCloud said “Crazy + Genius = Shiga.” Jimmy, whose every move is under your control, finds himself in a mad scientist’s lab, where he’s given a choice between three amazing objects: a mind-reading device, a time-travel machine, or the Killitron 3000 (which is as ominous as it sounds). Down each of these paths there are puzzles, mysterious clues, and shocking revelations. It’s up to the reader to lead Jimmy to success or disaster.

Meanwhile is a wholly original story of invention, discovery, and saving the world, told through a system of tabs that take you forward, backward, upside down, and right side up again. Each read creates a new adventure!

Vita is having a hard time making friends and meeting people at her new school until the day she holds auditions for her rock band Zebrafish. While she has big hopes and dreams for the group, she’s disappointed with the kids’ musical talents. However, she finds skills and abilities in these new bandmates, and they all work together to create a music video. As the band plans and strategizes, Vita can’t help but be disappointed that one member continually misses meetings. Then she learns that Tanya has leukemia, and Zebrafish holds a fundraising concert to help the hospital get the medical equipment it needs.

Chi is a mischievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Separated from the warmth and protection of her mother, feels distraught. Overcome with loneliness she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow., when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment...where pets are strictly not permitted.

Mission: 01 contains the first four chapters of Twin Spica and three additional short stories set in the world of the property.

In a Tokyo in the not too distant future a young girl studies diligently with ambitions of soon attending space academy. If things work out just right, her future may very well be among the stars as well. And yet, every time she looks up to the stars there is a sense of melancholy in her heart. A sadness surrounds Asumi, as space exploration itself has profoundly impacted her life for as long as she can remember.

But she is not alone...A young man wearing a lion's mask is always beside her. He speaks of the constellations and galaxies as if he they were like home. He knows what it is like to love the stars--slightly bitter and yet always so warm and inviting. Truth is he has gone through much of Asumi is just experiencing. And now in spirit he will forever be with Asumi guiding her on her path to space.

The Fireworks of 2015:Yaginuma's debut comic is the pilot story in the Twin Spica universe, detailing a world a five years before the events in the series.

Asumi: Five years after the Lion Shuttle tragedy and the Kamogawa household face another sad event--the passing of Asumi's mother.

Yet Another Spica:In a short story exclusive to this release, Mr. Yaginuma details his own real life Twin Spica moment, where he believes encounters a living version of Asumi!

From Harper Collins Canada:

Andy gets a new game system around the same time toys start disappearing from the room.. and Buzz Lightyear is convinced the timing is no coincidence! Is the game system trying to destroy Andy's toys and imagination... or has Buzz Lightyear finally lost it?

Last Fall, BOOM! Studios showed the world that MARK WAID IS EVIL with the smash-hit graphic novel series IRREDEEMABLE. This Fall, BOOM! shows the world that Mark Waid...INCORRUPTIBLE! Super villain Max Damage had an epiphany the day The Plutonian destroyed Sky City. When The Plutonian turned his back on humanity, Max Damage decided to step up. Now Max Damage has changed his name to Max Daring and turned from his formerly selfish to become... INCORRUPTIBLE.

From Penguin Group (Canada):

Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage "sci-philes" who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.

As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their new-found physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot--if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer's scent.

Fortunately, they are now more than friends--they're a pack. They are Virals.

From Simon & Schuster Canada:

Iku is witness to a disturbance during a Board of Education speech on protecting children from the danger of books. The perpetrators are two young boys protesting the banning of their favorite books. But while Iku wants to reach out to the next generation of book lovers, Dojo insists that they can't play favorites. Will Dojo's prickly insistence on sticking to the rules ruin their budding friendship?

From Barefoot Books:

The exceptional talents of Carol Ann Duffy and papercut artist Rob Ryan combine to present the story of a girl's journey through life and the desires that shape it. With a kind of magic that is timeless, The Gift speaks to everyone who wonders about the mysteries that lie at the heart of the human experience. A unique gift book for all ages by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy This lyrical text about life, love and art is accompanied by stunning papercut illustrations. The Gift portrays the cycle of life in a subtle, accessible way while exploring themes of birth, death, love and the importance of family and friends.

Lebanese author Wafa' Tarnowska opens a window onto the Arab world with her magnificent new translation of eight stories from A Thousand and One Nights. This edition is notable for combining favourites such as 'Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp' with less familiar tales such as 'The Diamond Anklet' and 'The Speaking Bird and the Singing Tree'. The collection also features the frame story about Shahriyar and Shahrazade. A classic of world literature, newly translated by an Arab author who has divided her adult life between Europe and the Middle East, and who has based this retelling on a fourteenth-century Syrian manuscript. Sumptuous illustrations by French illustrator Carole Henaff, who has travelled in the Arab world and now lives with her family in Barcelona.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

259. Lucy Unstrung by Carole Lazar

Lucy Unstrung by Carole Lazar (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 235
Ages: 12+
Finished: Nov. 19, 2010
First Published: Aug. 10, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: YA, realistic fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

When my mom finally walks in the door at nine-fifteen, she acts like nothing's wrong at all.

Acquired: Received a review copy from the Tundra Books.

Reason for Reading: I was intrigued by the Catholic nature of the main character and whether it truly would be a positive portrayal. Not something often found in YA literature.

An astounding novel of an authentic Catholic family dealing with real life issues. Lucy's mom was 14 when she became pregnant with her and now she is 28 and feeling that she needs "a life". As she takes evening classes and such she meets a new worldly friend and it isn't much longer until she separates from her husband and plans a new life for herself for the next four years while she goes back to school. Lucy is 13 and has a solid Catholic upbringing having been raised by her Grandma, and her father is seen as practicing the faith as well. But Lucy is shocked by her mother's new behaviour which seems to contradict so many Church teachings. She learns so much during this time of struggle as her parents sell their house and move into new homes.

I loved this book! Plot-wise, we have a fairly typical story of a young girl trying to deal with her parents separation and all the upheaval and turmoil this causes her personally as she moves with her mom into a trailer park and has to attend a new school, a public school, where she becomes the object of the class bully. But through it all (apart from the separation) the family remains true to their faith and this is what impressed me most about the story and made it so enjoyable along with the humorous touches. The book is not preachy in anyway it simply shows how one faith lives. While the two adults separate and it does seem to be for the long haul divorce is never mentioned this early, we see inside the confessional and what it's really like in there (especially for a young teen), we see Lucy questions her faith as she takes Church teachings to extremes and then seeks guidance and we see her going to mass regularly with both her mom and dad.

A wonderful, refreshing, humorous story that deals with tough issues from a positive Catholic perspective without being religious fiction. There have been many books written about teens dealing with similar issues from Muslim, Jewish, Asian, etc. perspectives and now, finally, the Catholic perspective can also be found. I do highly recommend this for Catholic school libraries and mainstream teens as well, if they can read about a religion not their own while still respecting the persons who believe as they do. I know just the girl I'll be passing this book on to!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

258. Nola's Worlds #1: Changing Moon

Changing Moon by Mathieu Mariolle. Art by Minikim. Translated from the French by Erica Olsen Jeffrey & Carol Klio Burrell (Canada) - (USA)
Nola's Worlds trilogy, #1

Pages: 136
Ages: 12+
Finished: Nov. 18, 2010
First Published: 2009 France (Aug, 2010 English trans.)
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Genre: Graphic novel, manga, YA, science fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Welcome to Alta Donna.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Lerner Publishing Group.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

Nola is a typical middle schooler, not popular, a daydreamer, who is consistently late for school. She's a latch key kid who lives with her mom, who is career driven and hardly ever at home with Nola; while her dad is busy with a new family and brings her gifts to make up for never seeing her. Nola's town, Alta Donna, is a slow boring place where nothing happens and Nola's life is mostly spent alone when not with her best friend, two years older than her and an outcast herself. But two new kids come to school and Nola picks up right away that something is not quite right about them. Then when she hears the brother and sister mysteriously arguing in the hall one day she determines to find out what it is that makes Damiano so agile and such a good baseball player and why Ines is able to charm anyone into getting anything she wants.

It's been a few days now since I've read this and it is lingering in my mind. My enjoyment of it is more the longer I think of it. This book is the first in a trilogy with it's purpose obviously a set up for the rest of the series whose plot barely gets off the ground here in Book 1. Instead the characters are all introduced and well portrayed; Nola is fully developed and a real, flawed character that the reader cares for. All the plot points are put in motion in this book, and near the end the science fiction theme is put into play, we get some reveals and the book ends with the certainty that things will never be boring for Nola again. Book 2 in the series is anxiously on my mind. All 3 books have been published.

The art is decidedly French and yet also interestingly, manga. I've read French comics before but this is the first French manga I've come across. There are plenty of typical manga elements used including little chibi scenes and yet there are distinct French elements combined which makes for an interesting graphic and artistic style which is very pleasing and appealed to me on an aesthetic level that normal Japanese manga does not.

Friday, November 26, 2010

257. Harry the Poisonous Centipede by Lynne Reid Banks

Harry the Poisonous Centipede by Lynne Reid Banks. Illustrated by Tony Ross (Canada) - (US)
First Modern Classics
Harry the Poisonous Centipede trilogy

Pages: 176
Ages: 7+
Finished: Nov. 18, 2010
First Published: 1996 (FMC Jul. 30, 2010)
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Genre: children, animal fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
Harry was a poisonous centipede.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: Specifically I am collecting this publisher's list under the title of "First Modern Classics" aimed at younger readers originating from the UK house. The titles on this list, which started in 2009, all by British authors, are a unique selection for North American readers, though a few international classics are included. Lynne Reid Banks is mostly known in NA for her Indian in the Cupboard series. I had heard of this book but never actually seen it.

Harry, his best friend George and his mother Belinda have got to be the only bugs in this world that I would ever call adorable. Banks manages to tell a tale of these centipedes in all their creepy crawly-ness, while at the same time creating characters the reader sympathizes with and roots for. There is one certain scene when I was utterly creeped out at the thought of these slithery insects from a "Hoo-Min" point of view while I was captured in the intense moment for Harry and George and whether they would escape with their lives.

An adorable story with lots of mini-adventures that lead up to a forewarned major climax. Banks tells this cute tale of centipede life keeping it light and fun for the youngest of listeners but also is able to impart a lot of genuine information about centipedes wholly within her storyline
and never crossing the line into giving a lesson. I really enjoyed the story finding the it exciting for the intended audience, fun and the characters lovable. Which is quite a feat since centipedes give me the willies just looking at pictures of them! Tony Ross' illustrations are plentiful and equally darling to match the text, making Harry an unforgettable character in children's literature.

Finally, an aspect of the "First Modern Classics" series I really like is first at the beginning there is a short paragraph by a famous author called "Why You'll Love this Book" which Ian Whybrow provides in this instance. Then at the back there is "More Than a Story" section with its own Table of Contents. This one includes 10 facts about centipedes, riddles, puzzles, a recipe, a craft and a "Are You Scared of Creepy Crawlies?" quiz.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

253-256. The Adventures of Daniel Boom Vol. 1 - 4

The Adventures of Daniel Boom aka Loud Boy series by D.J. Steinburg. Illustrated by Brian Smith.

Age: 8+

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Reason for Reading: Book #4 is a Cybils '10 nominee and as a panelist for Graphic Novels this is required reading for me. Whenever we get a series volume nominated that I haven't read the previous ones, I like to go back and read them so I can get a feel for the series as a whole. This is only if we are talking about the first 4 or less.

253. #1. Sound Off! 2008. 96 pgs. When Daniel was born he and the three other babies who were in the hospital nursery were the recipients of an evil scientist's ray gun designed to make babies not cry. It backfired and we follow Daniel as he goes through life with a super sonic voice that causes disaster and destruction. By age ten he has learned to keep his voice to the correct decibels of an indoor voice but it is hard for him to maintain. Then when the evil scientist returns, this time to make the entire world noiseless, he has arranged for the 4 children's families to be transferred with their jobs at KR Industries to the same town so he can deal with them all at once. The children meet each other for the first time, discover the plot and discover their superhero abilities and identities. Daniel's younger sister is included in this as well for reasons unknown but somehow due to her uncle who is a good scientist. This is a fun, delightful first book in the series. The kids are all relatable having powers which readers will identify with and enjoy seeing being put to good use. Daniel's parents have a large presence in the story, and are shown respect while at the same time are eccentric characters. Kid's will love these children with superpowers; a story equally accessible for boys and girls with the 5 member team consisting of 2 girls and mixed ethnicities. I look forward to book 2. 4/5

254. #2. Mac Attack. 2008. 96 pgs. Two panels tell us how things ended in book one, then we are introduced to each superhero and their power. With that the story picks up where it left off in book one. Uncle Stanley didn't drop by just to say good work, he wants to enlist their help in defeating the evil Industry of scientists who are out to quieten children forever. He gives them costumes and communicators and they discover a plot by Kid-Rid Industries in their own school where they have enlisted the help of the mean lunch lady to introduce a special polite powder into the mac & cheese turning the children into polite mannered zombies. Loud Boy and friends must find a way to get the antidote distributed to all the children in town and hand the evil Mrs. Grossweiner over to the police. This one was even better than the first book! Uncle Stanley tells the kids the whole background story of the evil KR Industries and his part working for them until he found out they were evil. So we know have a complete background story on the kids (from book 1) and the evil scientists (this book). Once the story is wrapped up and every one is celebrating, the scene is is set for the next book and the kids are called to their next mission causing the reader to be excited for the next in the series. Lots of action, fun superpowers, gross bad guys, and humour make this an excellent sequel to what is proving to be a fine series for the younger set. (5/5)

255. #3. Game On! 2009. 96 pgs. Picking up right where book 2 ends Daniel and the gang are called to meet Uncle Stanley at the zoo where he gives them an extremely important piece of technology that they must keep safe since Kid Rid is chasing him looking for it. In the meantime, a new kid at school is getting all the kids hooked on a new video game, including Daniel. When the other kids make the connection between the game (Pig Planet) and KR Industries they must first rescue Daniel and then all the other children in the world before they are all pixelated into the cyberworld where they will be caught for eternity. Another great entry in the Daniel Boom series. Kids are sure to enjoy this one, especially with it's video game theme. At the beginning we are briefly reminded of the previous criminals the five superheroes have fought before and one of them returns in this book with a new cohort. The jokes are plenty and humorous, and the action is non-stop. While Daniel is clearly the star of the series the other superhero children all get plenty of time to shine as well so readers can have a favourite and enjoy their antics. After the three books, I have to say my favourite is Chatterbox. She's the know-it-all and can stun the meanest dude by talking his ear off. Not my favourite in the series, so far that honour goes to vol. 2 but still a pure joy to read and I'm looking forward to the next volume. (4/5)

256. #4. Grow Up! 2010. 96 pgs. - Loud Boy and the gang think it's the perfect time for some inside secret reconnaissance of K-R Industries when they hold their first ever take-your-kid-to-work day. Little do they know Doctor Docter has chosen this time to use his Energy Replenerator to suck the energy out of the superheroes (and eventually all children) turning them into senior citizens, so that the Dr. and his kid-hating cronies can have the energy of youth. This volume brings back all the previous villains in minor roles, reminds us of all the heroes' previous world-saving exploits, and finally reveals the secret of how Jeannie S. (Chatterbox) got her super powers. Just as much fun as one expects from a Daniel Boom book by this point. Lots of action and humour combine for a great story making this another of my favourites in the series. The only problem is we are left hanging wondering whether there will be another book in the series. The story arc is completely wrapped up in this book with a finite ending. The author teases us by leaving a footnote after the words "The End" pronouncing "perhaps?". If the series does continue there will be some major changes in the basic plot line and I for one certainly hope Loud Boy and the gang will return. (5/5)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

252. The Witch's Tears by Jenny Nimmo

The Witch's Tears by Jenny Nimmo. Illustrated by Thierry Elfezanni (Canada) - (US)
First Modern Classics

Pages: 112
Ages: 6-10
Finished: Nov. 17, 2010
First Published: 1996 (FCM Jul. 30, 2010)
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:
It was an icy day.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: Specifically I am collecting this publisher's list under the title of "First Modern Classics" aimed at younger readers originating from the UK house. The titles on this list, which started in 2009, all by British authors, are a unique selection for North American readers, though a few international classics are included. I knew nothing of this author or title.

This book is certainly aimed at the younger ages, though it may prove frightening or tense for some as the father is the one in peril from a real life situation, being lost on the roads on the way home in a snow storm. We never experience this from the father's point of view though and otherwise the story is light-hearted with the family being visited by a good witch, though they don't know it. A cute story, short and easy to read with lots of fantasy elements and a heart warming ending. I wonder at the inclusion of this title in this publisher's series though as the other books I've read have been much more outstanding. Still worth the read, especially for the younger set and those looking for a "good witch" story.

Finally, an aspect of the "First Modern Classics" series I really like is first at the beginning there is a short paragraph by a famous author called "Why You'll Love this Book" which Lynne Reid Banks provides in this instance. Then at the back there is "More Than a Story" section with its own Table of Contents. This one includes lots of riddles and several recipes relevant to the title. Also included is a list of signs to look for in a witch from the old puritanical days, a portion of Shakespeare's Macbeth's witches' scene "double, double, toil and trouble..." and a witches from history section that includes, among others, both Baba Yaga and Anne Boleyn (remember that 6th finger!). A quick, cute read.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

251. Lila & Ecco's Do-It-Yourself Comics Club by Willow Dawson

Lila & Ecco's Do-It-Yourself Comics Club by Willow Dawson (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 112
Ages: 9+
Finished: Nov. 17, 2010
First Published: Sep. 1, 2010
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: children, graphic novel, how-to, non-fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:
Summer vacation, week three...
Acquired: Received a review copy from Kids Can Press.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

This book is mostly a non-fiction guide on how to make your own comic book thinly guised within the framework of a fictional story. Lila and Ecco go to a Comic Con but they have to keep Lila's little sister with them. She runs off and they chase her into a room where a panel is discussing comics/graphic novels and how they are made. At the end of the presentation little how-to booklets are distributed. Once home, Lila and Ecco one day sit down and read the booklet cover to cover as they follow the instructions to make their own comics.

The information is very detailed and easy to follow. If the reader is already a comfortable artist the information contained here will have them drawing their own comics in no time. The story format makes the book easy to read and entertaining but on the other hand will make finding specific information later hard to find. Whether the book will actually work as a how-to I'm not thoroughly convinced. I know myself I would prefer a non-fiction book with an index so I could look up topics again without having to search through the whole book. With that said, the book will certainly inspire budding graphic artists to stop dreaming and get to work on actually making their drawings and sketches into real, professional looking comics. The back of the book gives a list of suggested further reading. One other thing I personally couldn't get past was that I just did not like the artwork in this book. While the instruction panels were clear, the story panels were crowded, the drawing style was unimpressive veering towards sloppy and I just did not care for the faces at all finding them rather ugly and off-putting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

250. The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 372
Ages: 9+
Finished: Nov. 16, 2010
First Published: Apr. 1, 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: fictional biography, children, poetry
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

On a continent of many songs, in a country shaped like the arm of a tall guitarrista, the rain drummed down on the town of Temuco.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading: I wouldn't have read this if I hadn't received a review copy but Ryan is the author of one of my son's favourite books that he has had read to him multiple times, Riding Freedom, and I love Peter Sis' artwork. Besides, I always enjoy a good biography, even children's fictional biographies. The poetry angle did worry me though as I am not a fan of poetry in general (except for the silly, rhyming kind ala Shel Silverstien and specific epic poems).

This tells the story of Neftali Reyes' childhood, better known by his pen name Pablo Neruda, a great 20th century poet and winner of the Nobel Prize, though I've never heard of him before. And quickly sums up his adulthood in the closing chapters. The last pages include a sampling of his poetry. He had a rough, some would call abusive childhood. A mother who died 2 months after his birth, he and his two siblings were raised by a domineering father who had no patience for daydreaming or idleness. He had worked himself up from poverty and expected his sons to have careers that he never had the opportunity for himself. The eldest son wanted to be a singer, and this was driven out of him brutally by the father who set him up as a businessman after sending him to college. His plans for Neftali were even loftier, expecting him to be a doctor. But Neftali fell short of his expectations in every aspect, being a thin, gangly, weak, sickly child who daydreamed, collected bits and pieces of detritus and loved to write. His father tried everything in his power to drive this creativity out of him, but with the encouragement of a newspaperman Uncle he was able to hold on to his ambition, deep down, until he escaped his father's influence. He did change his name though to save his father from the embarrassment of publicly having a poet and government dissident for a son.

The story of Neftali's life is very interesting and the book reads with a gentle poetic flow, in keeping with its subject matter. The book has been printed in green ink as that is how Pablo Neruda himself liked to write. The author Pam Ryan has inserted her own short poetry here and there and the illustrations are accompanied by poetic questions in the form of Neruda's own "The Book of Questions". This will all be a bonus to poetry lovers especially those familiar with Neruda himself. Not liking artsy poetry myself, it didn't appeal to me but didn't bother me much either.

Also the author has used magical realism to delve inside Neftali's imaginative, daydreaming personality writing his fantasies as if they were indeed happening. For instance, there is a scene where he finds a rhinoceros beetle in the forest for the first time and is fascinated with it, as he watches it, it grows larger and larger until it kneels down its front legs and offers itself to Neftali who then climbs aboard and sets off for a ride through the forest. I am a big fan of magical realism but this didn't work for me in this book as it just came across as a device the author was using to make the book even more artsy and poetic. There are several such episodes but they are not overwhelming. Overall, I really did enjoy the story of Neftali Reyes' childhood and would read his memoirs or a non-fiction biography if I happened to cross paths with them but I was not overly impressed with the artsy-f*rtsy ingredients added to this book and would have much preferred a straight historical fiction. Critics, I'm sure will love the book for its artfulness though.

Monday: Books in the Mail

Cybils books are trickling in and last week I received a couple from the respective publishers plus I also received a couple other books which turned out to be graphic novels as well. So we'll call it A Very Merry Graphic Novel Week:

Cybils Books:

Book already reviewed here.

Five stories featuring Tinker Bell and the rest of the Fairies of Pixie Hollow! In "The Lost Fairy" Tinker Bell and Prilla search for one of their missing friends while "The Wings of Rani" sees the only wingless fairy, Rani, strive to save her friend Beck from a huge waterfall. "The Most Beautiful Dress" pits Beck, Vidia and Prilla against each other in a dress contest, leaving Tinker Bell to keep the competition from getting out of hand. Beck learns the true value of friends in "The Color of Friendship", and lastly all of the Fairies find themselves looking a bit silly when Queen Clarion accidentally looses her shoes, leading all the Fairies to do the same, thinking it’s the newest fashion trend! A collection of warm and funny stories starring Tinker Bell and friends.

From Random House Canada:

While the meek and mild flying monkey Bufkin is trapped in Fabletown's collapsed business office with the evil witch Baba Yaga, Frau Totenkinder and the witches at the Farm upstate prepare to deal with Mister Dark down in what's left of Fabletown.

From First Second Books:

On the first day of summer vacation, teenaged sisters M’Rose, Elle, and Célina step out into the tropical heat of their island home and continue their headlong tumble toward adulthood. Boys, schoolyard fights, petty thievery, and even illicit alcohol make for a heady mix, as The Zabime Sisters indulge in a little summertime freedom. The dramatic backdrop of a Caribbean island provides a study of contrasts—a world that is both lush and wild, yet strangely small and intimate—which echoes the contrasts of the sisters themselves, who are at once worldly and wonderfully naïve.

Master storyteller Aristophane’s The Zabime Sisters takes a keen look at some of the universal experiences of children on the cusp of growing up, in the fascinating setting of Guadeloupe. Aristophane’s bold, graphic brushwork weaves a wild texture through this gentle, clear-eyed tale.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

248-249. Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye Vol. 1 & 2

Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series by Colleen AF Venable. Illustrated by Stephanie Yue.

Age: 7-11

Publisher: Graphic Universe

Reason for Reading: Both books 1 & 2 are Cybils '10 nominees and as a panelist for Graphic Novels they are required reading for me.

248. #1. Hamster and Cheese. Apr 2010. 48 pgs. This is absolutely adorable! The artwork is so cute and the animals have such personalities it was a joy to read. Elementaries are going to love this series. Sasspants PI inadvertently gets mistaken for a detective and the hamsters call on him to solve the case of the missing sandwiches. Every day the owner puts a sandwich near the hamster cage for his lunch and every day it disappears. He has said if it happens one more time he is going to get rid of them once and for all. Only the hamsters don't know what is happening as they can't stay awake and Sasspants takes the case to get the annoying hamster off his back. The owner is somewhat addlepated, having labeled the animal cages with all the wrong names: the hamsters are koalas, the mice are walruses, the chinchillas are camels and so on. But what really makes this so entertaining are the personalities of the animals. Sasspants is a reader who wants to be left alone, a take charge guy just to get everyone off his case. The goldfish are my favourite with their short term memories, they can hardly remember each others names long enough let alone have an intelligent conversation. Then the hamsters who spend most of their time sleeping except the one who has befriended Detective Pants and thinks they have become best buddies, though he does have a tendency to fall asleep frequently and also believes he may still be a koala like the sign says. The last pages include an article on a non-fiction topic relevant to the story, this time explaining how a snake can eat something four times the size of its mouth and a last page telling the differences between what the owner labeled the animals and what they really are. Adorable! 5/5

249. #2. And Then There Were Gnomes. Aug 2010. 48 pgs. - This second story is almost as fun and cute as the first one and it does clear up some information for us. References to book 1 are mentioned so it is best to read them in order. The little hamster, Hamish, whose name is consistently referenced this time around is dying for another mystery for Sasspants to solve and for him to be her trusted sidekick. Only problem is he is driving 'Pants crazy by inventing mysteries all week, his latest one being to get all the hamsters to hide so he can claim they are all missing. Then the mice start to really disappear one by one and it takes some convincing to make Sasspants realize Hamish isn't crying wolf again.

Once again it is the personalities that win the read over which specifically focuses on Hamish and Sasspants this time though all the others do get some page time, including my favourite, the goldfish. It is also made clear in this volume that Sasspants is a girl. Halfway through the book she is called "she" and from that point on the words "she" and "her" are used frequently. I had mistakenly taken her for a boy in the first book, but as far as I can remember no mention of her female status was mentioned. Poor Mr. V. the owner has some children in to buy a pet, and they tell him his signs are all wrong thinking it's a big joke when he tells them walruses make nice pets, meaning mice, and when he asks the children what they are really called they jokingly answer alligators and the next day he relabels some of the animal cages with some more funny names. The last pages include an article on a non-fiction topic relevant to the story, this time explaining how mice can get through walls and a last page telling the differences between what Mr. V. re-labeled the animals and what they really are. A delightful comic series that I think will appeal to many ages for its sheer humour, which manages to hit several levels from young to older. 4/5

Saturday, November 20, 2010

247. Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 229
Ages: 10+
Finished: Nov. 16, 2010
First Published: Aug. 10, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: children, realistic fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

For the record: I did not mean to send my two half sisters to the emergency room.

Acquired: Won a review copy from Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.

Reason for Reading: I am fond of the publisher, the cover caught my attention and the summary sounded original. It didn't hurt that the word "George Clooney" was in the title either!

What an amazing little gem of a book! I absolutely giggled with delight as I read about Violet's dilemma and what lengths she goes to. Converse-wearing 12 yo Violet's parents have been divorced for two years. Her TV producer father left them for a trophy wife, who was expecting twins and off they moved to LA. Violet's mom took it hard and spent the first 6 mos. going through a change, pierced navel, drinking too much wine but she got out of her slump and took up the single life with a passion, always dating, looking for the new Mr. Right. Only problem is the men are all losers. Cheaters, married, kid haters, cheapskates, etc. and Violet knows her mom can do better. She's even been known to spy on the boyfriend with her best friend Phoebe, looking out for her mom's best interests. But when her mom starts to seriously date Dudley Wiener Violet knows it's time to intervene and since her mom actually met George Clooney years ago when she worked on-set doing hair touch ups and had a personalized photo of him, Violet plans a campaign to get Clooney to meet her mother again and perhaps she will be the one who will break his rule that he will never get married again.

The story deals with some serious issues but is light-hearted and hilarious. Violet has an attitude, and understandably so. She outwardly hates her father for his desertion of her and her little sister, she is protective of her little sister and feels she needs to watch out for her mom, while at the same time she has sworn off boys/men altogether except that oh, so cute Jean-Paul has started paying attention to her. Not a popular kid at school, she's mostly a loner but she isn't one to let other's push her around so she's often getting into trouble both at home and at school. She punches the most popular girl at school in the nose when she calls her mom a skank, she disses a 5 yo girl in her sister's after school daycare when she calls Rosie dumb, she allows her two half-sisters to eat cat poo and she has a phone conversation with her dad only responding with Magic 8 ball answers. These are just some of the antics you can expect from Violet, but none of it is done mean-spiritedly. I fell in love with Violet right from the beginning.

It's tough for Violet getting used to her Dad's glamourous LA lifestyle and new family and adjusting to her own new middle class life that may just include a dumpy, balding man called Dudley Wiener. But through it all, with the help of her eccentric but youthfully understanding mother, her mother's best friend, her own best friend, her psychiatrist parents and yes even, her dad, his new wife and Dudley she gets through this tense, hurtful stage of her life.

Susin Nielsen has written a book that is both poignant and witty. This was a can't put down book for me that I read quickly and yet didn't want it to end. It would be fun to meet Violet again sometime as she seems to be the type of person who will be up to antics all her life, whether she starts them or they happen to her. Lovely book, Violet is a memorable character in literature that will stay fondly with me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

246. The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins

The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins. Illustrated by Tyler Page (Canada) - (USA)
Chicagoland Detective Agency, #1

Pages: 62
Ages: 9+
Finished: Nov. 14, 2010
First Published: Aug, 2010
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Genre: Graphic novel, children, mystery, science fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Of all the pet supply stores in Chicagoland, she had to come walking into this one.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Lerner Publishing Group.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

Honestly from the cover and title I was expecting corny and campy but what I got was an entertaining old-style private eye detective story involving a mad scientist. The plot is similar to that of Brain Camp, though this time it is a summer prep school where the students seem to all be brain washed into achieving. Add our main character, Megan Yamamura. The new kid in town, a vegan, manga reading, haiku writing girl with gusto and this book is a success. Megan carries this book and is an unforgettable character, whom one just wants to meet up with again. She is joined by Raf, a nerdy computer guy and Bradley, a special dog they rescue from an experiment lab. The story covers their first case and determines how they set up the Detective Agency which will be open for business in book 2 advertised on the last page. A funny, silly, "scoobby doo" type mystery.

The art work is fantastic. Done in b/w, at first glance it may disappoint but once you start reading, I realized Megan couldn't have been depicted otherwise. Her beautiful Japanese look dressed in a combo of goth and emo style clothing perfectly suits her. The backgrounds aren't very detailed but the facial expressions are delightful and the sound effects add much to the action. An impressive story. Will look forward to book 2: The Maltese Mummy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

DNF. Coppermine by Keith Ross Leckie

Coppermine by Keith Ross Leckie (Canada) only

Pages: 383
Ages: 18+
Finished: 131/383
First Published: Oct. 5, 2010
Publisher: Viking Canada
Genre: historical fiction, Canadian North, true crime
Rating: DNF

First sentence:

The young priest stood on the rough planks of the Hudson's Bay Company dock at Fort Norman feeling the thousand-mile thrum of the Mackenzie River against the haphazard structure of spruce logs, nails, and ropes under his boots.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group (Canada).

Reason for Reading: I used to live in Edmonton and the based on a true story aspect had me as soon as I heard about the book.

It took me four days to read 131 pages (my usual reading speed is 100 pgs/day) and while I found the story interesting it was just very slow going for me. I felt like I was traipsing through the snow too. Then I just got uncomfortable with the anti-Christian bias the author put into play that I really didn't want to slog through the rest of the book. Whenever the priest's religious conversion attempts were talked of there was scorn and ridicule implied, while whenever the Eskimo's religious views were mentioned there was awe and wonder by the white NWMP officer of no special religious convictions who was sent to bring the murderers back for trial. Then again it may have been limited to an anti-Catholic bias as when I skipped to the short epilogue at the end it was a brazen gloat that the Anglicans beat the RCs in converting the area and that is where their religious views stand to this day. The whole true story can be found here (scroll to the ***), where it seems justice won out in the end for all concerned, imho, and the non-fiction book at that link looks like it might be a more interesting factual account. Your opinion may vary. Here is the publisher's summary:

Part epic adventure, part romance, and part true-crime thriller, Coppermine is a dramatic, compelling, character-driven story set in 1917 in the extremes of Canada's far north and the boom town of Edmonton.

The story begins when two missionaries disappear in the remote Arctic region known as the Coppermine. North West Mounted Police officer Jack Creed and Angituk, a young Copper Inuit interpreter, are sent on a year-long odyssey to investigate the fate of the lost priests. On the shores of the Arctic Ocean near the mouth of the Coppermine River, they discover their dismembered remains. Two Inuit hunters are tracked and apprehended, and the four begin an arduous journey to Edmonton, to bring the accused to justice.

Instructing the jury to "think like an Eskimo," the defence counsel sets out to prove the Inuit acted in self-defence. They hear how the hunters believed the priests were possessed by demons about to kill them, and how, acting on this belief, they killed the men and ate their livers. The jury finds them not guilty. The hunters become celebrities, a parade is held for them, they visit a movie theatre and an amusement park, and become guests of honour at socialite dinners. They are given new suits, fine cigars, and champagne. But Rome is outraged that the murderers of its martyred priests will go free. As secrets of Jack Creed's past in the trenches of Europe are revealed, Jack tries to save his two friends, and himself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

245. Binky to the Rescue by Ashley Spires

Binky to the Rescue by Ashley Spires (Canada) - (US)

A Binky Adventure, Book 2

Pages: 64
Ages: 7-10
Finished: Nov. 13, 2010
First Published: Sep. 1, 2010
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: children, graphic novel, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Another one got in.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Kids Can Press.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

I absolutely *loved* Binky's first adventure, and while, this, his second adventure wasn't quite as stupendous as the first it didn't fall far. My main issue would be that "Space Cat" had such a rich, full plot while "To the Rescue" is a fairly basic plot comparatively. However, it still has all the wonderful qualities I loved the first time around. Binky is such the quintessential cat and this time he is busy ridding the house of aliens (which happen to be wasps who have a warship nearby). Binky is so involved in his duties that he doesn't pay attention to his surroundings and makes quite a mess of the house and then accidentally falls out a window. This part was hilarious, he sticks a garden hose in his mouth for an oxygen supply, and explores the new world of outer space which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for all the aliens (esp. the wasps).

The humour of Binky is hilarious in an understated manner, he takes himself quite seriously. And the artwork is beautiful. I love the way Spires uses a muted, limited palette of colours mainly browns, blues and greens with just a tiny splash of colour here and there, for ex. the red hat on a garden gnome. A great follow-up that leaves one begging for more Binky books. While these are children's books, I also think they would make perfect gifts for the adult cat lover as they are just so cute.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

xx. It's Not About the Apple! by Veronika Martenova Charles

It's Not About the Apple! by Veronika Martenova Charles. Illustrated by David Parkins (Canada) - (USA)
Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales

Pages: 64
Ages: 5+
Finished: Nov. 12, 2010
First Published: Oct. 12. 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: children, easy reader, fairy tales
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

"Look!" said Lily to Ben and Jake.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Tundra Books.

Reason for Reading: My son read this as his reader while I was away on vacation and I didn't want to miss out so read it myself.

Three children, who appear to be 9 or 10 year olds find a lunchbox with an apple in it then one of them mentions a few elements from a popular fairy tale, in this case Snow White. Then another says that's not the version I've heard and they proceed to tell an ethnic version of the Snow White story. The rest of the book follows this pattern until all three children have told a fairy/folk tale from around the globe that is similar in some way to the previous one. Then the final chapter brings us back to what the children were doing in the first place that brought the topic up. All the books in this series follow the same format.

Snow White is explored here with versions from Greece, Armenia and Italy. I didn't quite enjoy this as much as the previous book from the series, "Crumbs", that I have read so far. The stories were all entertaining. I especially enjoyed the first one, perhaps because it was so similar to the Snow White story, the other two were less similar though they did have direct connections with each other. The tale from Armenia was quite unique. I also enjoyed that I had not heard any of the tales before and I've read a lot of fairy tales from around the world. Between each story there is a segue that returns to the original three children and introduces the new tales. The last page in the book tells the author's sources from which she based her tales that may perhaps inspire some to reading the original ethnic tales.

As to reading level, there is no reference to it on the books at all. It would have been nice had the publisher's actually determined the RL for the books in this series. Though the publisher's website does have a "browse & search" feature which will let you see for yourself whether they are appropriate for your child. I'm going to go out on a limb and say they are about equivalent with a Level 2 "I Can Read" Book. My son, who has learning disabilities, read the book very well with moderate help. The publisher describes the reading as "Written in short, easy phrases with carefully selected vocabulary..." but these are books the parent will have to see to judge whether they are up to your child's reading level. Otherwise, I never find anything wrong with a child reading a book that is too easy, if they enjoy it. We have the rest of the series and ds is already reading "It's Not About the Pumpkin" for his next reader!

Monday, November 15, 2010

244. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 335
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 10, 2010
First Published: Oct. 5, 2010
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: southern fiction, psychological suspense, Gothic
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: I love southern fiction and am always intrigued with stories where the past comes back to haunt the lives of those living in the present.

It's the late 1970's, rural Mississippi and white Larry Ott from a lower middle class home and black Silas Jones son of a poor working single mother, make for strange friends. But friends they are, though they have to keep it secret because of their colour, everyone, including their parents would cause a fuss, but as the years go by they drift apart. Silas becomes a jock baseball player eventually moving away to play college baseball. Larry, always a loner, likes horror books and comics, goes out on his first date and the girl disappears forever. No evidence or body is ever found but for the next 25 years Larry is ostracized as the likely killer of the missing girl. Now Silas is back, a constable of a nearby town, and when another girl goes missing all eyes focus once again on Larry.

This is an emotional, poignant story that focuses on many levels. It is a story of a close, bonding, but brief childhood friendship and a story of race relations in a variety of complicated situations. The most profound theme found here though is the burying of deep secrets of the past and leaving them to rot. The harm and destruction they can cause when no one comes forth to tell the truth and the turmoil caused when decades later the secrets are brought forth into the light.

This is a somewhat slow moving story, which centers mostly on the relationship of the two men, the secrets of the past which they each are only partially aware of, and how their lives have been affected. The crime is in the background and keeps the plot moving forward as well as giving cohesion to the meandering narrative which drifts back to the past and forwards to the present. Personally, I didn't find the crime or the secrets very hard to figure out knowing quite early on how things would probably turn out. However, the story is certainly character driven and I highly enjoyed spending time with Larry Ott and Silas Jones, though one more than the other. Somewhat dark emotionally, yet not all doom and gloom, with an ending that may not leave you feeling all fuzzy; I found it a satisfying ending and am enticed to looking into Mr. Franklin's previous novels.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

243. Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek

Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 151
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 8, 2010
First Published: Dec. 16, 2010
Publisher: Aquila Polonica
Genre: fictional memoir, WWII, Polish deportation
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Everyone has a story.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Aquila Polonica.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy memoirs of the war (even fictionalized) and I particularly like WWII books which introduce me to new information that is not so widely known.

This is a novel but is based on the true story of the author's father's family (his siblings and their parents). I also think there is a fuzzy line between where the truth ends and the fiction begins. It truly seems that the author used the novel format simply so she could write her family's story from all sides, giving voice to all four members old enough to tell their own story.

This story tells one Polish family's experience as Russia invades and sends all Poles to labour camps in two places in the frozen Arctic. The Jopeks are sent to Siberia and it is from this point their story is told as they are separated and survive the war being sent from country to country, with even a few years stop in Tanganyika, until they eventually end up as people stripped of their Polish citizenship and start a new life in America. Told in the first person, the narrative switches back and forth between the father, who at first chance leaves Siberia to join the Polish army for the good of his family, the eldest son (the author's father) who much later on joins the Young Polish Battalion (at first to help supply extra rations to his mother & siblings), the sister, the eldest child in the family and the mother, who tries to give her remaining children hope. The youngest boy is but 4 when they are deported and knows no other kind of life by the time the war is over.

I had a hard time with the Prologue but once the chapters started I became interested and the further on the story went the more involved I became in the lives of these people. I came to care for them and root for their survival. The Table of Contents tells us right off that the last chapter is called "The Burial" and with the wonder of whose burial it would be hanging over my head throughout the book I really came to love each and every one of them. Having read many books about the forced labour camps much of the information wasn't new to me, yet of course it is always shocking that people were treated this way, and each person's story is unique in its own way.

What I found absolutely fascinating was the whole role Poland had in WWII and how it's people were treated by the "Allies". First they are invaded by Communist Russia (their long time enemy) and then suddenly Russia becomes their "ally" in the war. The Polish people lost their country to Communist Russia; Poland had fought under its own flag in the war and yet no one came to help them get their country back. They were forbidden to march in the victory parade at the end of the war by the British and US so as not to offend Lenin. Stripped of their citizenship if they did not immediately return to the new Communist ruled Poland thousands of exiled Poles became "displaced persons" who had fought a war to save their country's freedom, only in the end to be scattered to the ends of the earth: Britain, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Mexico, United States and the few who did go back home knowing it would never be the same with their enemy now in control.

A very vivid personal tale of one family's experience of the war from their own unique experience, which would have been echoed by many other Polish families in similar yet unique to them ways. Also, an extremely eye-opening look at a not so familiar aspect of World War II's history, the Polish experience, a people who fought hard and ended up with no country or citizenship.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

242. Adam by Ted Dekker

Adam by Ted Dekker (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 402
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 7, 2010
First Published: 2008 (Jul. 2010 reprint)
Publisher: Center Street

Genre: thriller, serial killer, horror, christian fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

A hot, sticky evening in Los Angeles.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Hachette Book Group.

Reason for Reading: I'm reading all of Ted Dekker's books.

This book can be read two ways, depending on whether you are a believer or not. For believer's this is a thriller, typical serial killer plot, that involves spiritual warfare, evil vs. good and Catholic Christians. For the non-Christian reader, this is read as a horror story involving the supernatural/paranormal. Either way, this is one fast-paced, scary, read and now one of my favourite Dekker books up there beside "The Bride Collector".

The story of a serial killer who has murdered sixteen women when we meet him. He has been dubbed "Eve" as he leaves the word scrawled on a wall or object wherever his victims are found. The authorities think he kills his victims by injecting them with a deadly strain of meningitis virus which the doctors think they have an antidote, but will only know for sure if a victim were found alive. Chasing him for the past five years is FBI Special Agent Daniel Clark, who normally becomes obsessed with his cases but this time Eve has become such an obsession that his wife has divorced him. One night, as they race to track down the killer's latest victim before she dies, Daniel is shot point blank by Eve and is clinically dead for 20 mins. before resuscitation. This means they now have an eyewitness on what Eve looks like, Daniel himself, but everything from the moment before he is shot until he wakes up in the hospital is erased from his memory. Daniel becomes obsessed with regaining his memory and the lengths he's willing to go when the next victim hits closer to home take Daniel to a place where the lines between life and death are almost lost.

A riveting story that kept me up late at night as I had to read just one more chapter. Daniel is a fascinating character, stubborn and strong-willed to a point that made me not particularly like him as a person but still able to enjoy his character. A unique device Dekker has used this time, which I found utterly thrilling, was scattered throughout the book a nine-part magazine article on the killer's life from childhood up to before he becomes the Eve killer, saving that for the ninth installment. It all starts off when he and his sister are kidnapped in the middle of the night from their beds when they are 4 and 3 respectfully. As I read the main story I eagerly anticipated the next installment of the magazine article! Fascinating, disturbing, compelling and riveting. A very scary story of the darkest, deepest evil vs the love of Christ.

As a Catholic I only had one problem with a line that (I can't find it now so will paraphrase fairly accurately) said the crucifix and holy water have no power in and of themselves, and are merely symbolic ... I don't agree with this. Of course a crucifix has no power but it is not symbolic. It is pretty easy for anyone to see that a crucifix represents (by actually showing us) Christ's death on the cross for our sins. A plain cross, however, is certainly symbolic, while a crucifix shows. Holy water does not have powers as in magical powers, but it too is neither merely symbolic. Rather than writing a dissertation on holy water. The first two paragraphs on this page describe the purification and sanctification powers of holy water should you care for a quick, light read .

Friday, November 12, 2010

241. Gossip Girl Vol. 1: For Your Eyes Only

Gossip Girl Vol. 1: For Your Eyes Only by HyeKyung Baek. Based on Cecily von Ziegesar

Pages: 245
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 6, 2010
First Published: Aug. 2010
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: manga, YA, chick lit
Rating: 0/5

First sentence:

Hey people! Ever wondered what the lives of the chosen ones are really like?

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the Calgary library while on vacation.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

I'm not writing one of my usual reviews for this manga because, I'm sorry to say, I've never said this about a book before, but this was simply "trash". Follow the lives of rich high school students with no adult supervision who party, drink, smoke and sleep with each other as they plan devious revenge against anyone who ticks them off, whether it's their BFF or not. The publisher recommends for Older Teens; in my estimation that would be adult (18,19 and up). If it weren't for the Cybils I wouldn't have read the book in the first place. The title was a good clue, but turn the book over and the picture on the back cover is similar to something from a girlie magazine. And to prove my point on calling the book trash, in my estimation, (I can't believe I'm going to write this) but an example is that one of the girl's mother's gives her boyfriend a bj under a table in a restaurant. The rest of the book is no better. I have not read the books or seen the TV show so cannot make any comparison. The end.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flying Up, Up and Away

not in a balloon but on a plane back home to my lovely little Niagara Falls this morning. My days of being a city person are so over! No book review for today, but they shall resume as regularly scheduled tomorrow. DH says I have about 15 parcels waiting for me. [goody, goody] and I have ILL cybils books waiting for me as well that I put on hold from here so I'd be ready to jump right back into required graphic novel writing. Can't wait to see my loved ones back home! Or start reading my fav. blogs again and talking to my blogger friends once more. Signing out from Calgary, Alberta

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

231. Green Books Campaign: Making the Grade, Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country

Making the Grade: Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country by Barb Owens

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

Making the Grade: Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country by Barb Owens

Pages: 224
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 28, 2010
First Published: 2008
Publisher: Washington State University Press
Genre: non-fiction, social history, education
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

In late August 1861, a 16-year-old cowboy, A.J. Splawn, first set eyes on the Kittitas Valley: "It...was the loveliest spot I'd ever seen - to the west the great Cascade range, to the northwest the needle peaks of the [Peshastin] stood as silent sentinels over the beautiful dell below, where the Yakima wound its way the length of the valley and disappeared down the grand canyon.

Green Characteristics: printed on pH neutral, acid-free paper

Reason for Reading: I love early 20th century history and the old school system is of interest to me.

Making the Grade starts with a lengthy Introduction which gives a background history on the state of Washington, settling specifically on Kittitas County, and speaking of national/world events only if they affected the County especially. Many historical details of Kittitas County are followed from its founding, the railway, the great flu epidemic but it quickly narrows down to the focus of education from the teaching college called Normal School in Ellensburg to the rural one or two room school house which this book is devoted to.

What follows are the reminiscences of 13 former Kittitas country schoolmarms from 1914 to 1942, with the majority of them being from before the depression years. These tales are told in the words of the ladies themselves from taped interviews stored in the library archives and their journals donated by their respective families for the purpose of this book. Then there are the author's actual interviews in person she was able to conduct with a handful of 90-odd year old teachers who spoke directly to her.

Each teacher's reflections on teaching in Kititas county take on the same form as the reminisce about the way one taught a group of different ages in a one room schoolhouse having anywhere from a total of seven to twenty-five students. They spoke of the treks to school, walking or taking horses, the wood burning stove that the teacher was responsible for but usually hired an older boy to take care of, the water fetched from a nearby well or often times a further creek. The teachers had a curricula to follow which they all said was helpful but they pulled it off using books that the children brought to class themselves which was always a hodgepodge of books handed down from older siblings and even parents. The teachers all talked of their days at Normal School (teachers college) and how much fun they had there. As the tales progress, names pop up again as one teacher takes over from one we've heard from before or a teacher is assigned to a school we've heard about earlier on. Surprisingly, all the stories are positive, none of the women says they had much problem with discipline, saying they found that the poorer and more rural an area they were in the more well-mannered were the children. Some of the teachers only taught a few years as they were not allowed to continue once they married, but others went on for quite some years. While the ladies see some positives in modern school, the majority of them miss the good old days of the one room schoolhouse and think it was an excellent setting for a good education.

The back of the book contains the Washington State 8th Grade exam which students needed to pass to get their school certificate and it also includes a teachers exam from Normal School as well. I'm not sure many of us would pass either exam today no matter what our background is!

A very enjoyable look inside the lives of early 20th century rural families, what they did for entertainment, how important community was to their way of life, how respected "Teacher" was in the community and a look inside the educational system at work from the teacher's point of view.

There does get to be a certain sameness to the stories when reading and I think this book is best enjoyed by reading a few entries, then coming back to it for a few more, rather sitting down and reading straight through.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

240. Jack of Fables: The Big Book of War

The Big Book of War by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges. Art by Tony Akins & Russ Braun (Canada) - (USA)
Jack of Fables, #6

Pages: 128
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 5, 2010
First Published: Oct. 20, 2009
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre: graphic novel, humour, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

So, here it is -- one for the ages.

Acquired: Borrowed from the Calgary Library while on vacation.

Reason for Reading: next in the series.

I have to say I have really been looking forward to reading this volume simply because it means I can get back to the original Fables series now with the big crossover issue that continues on with the storyline started here. I've enjoyed Jack and will continue to read the series especially since I've inadvertently found out how the plot line changes in the next volume. I still do prefer Fables as a whole though to Jack of...

This Volume finally brings closure to the inevitable showdown that has been looming nearer and nearer in the last few volumes between Mr. Revise and his Fables and Bookburner and his army of gathered Fables. All five issues stay on theme and play out the titular storyline. This is not one of my favourites from the series. A battle can only last so long and stretching out over 5 issues was a bit overkill (no pun intended) for me. Not a lot of plot going on but certainly plenty of action. Admittedly some hilarious one- or two-liners from arrogant, s*xist Jack that kept the humour coming. The best part comes, of course, in the final chapter when we learn a most shocking reveal about Jack, one I'm not sure he'll be able to handle. The book ends inviting us to "The Great Fables Crossover", the next volume in the Fables series where the storyline will continue. So that is where I'll be headed next!

So... this finally makes me au currant with the series! With just the current volumes of Fables (13) and Jack (7) to read. Fables 14 comes out in Dec. and then the 2011 books are already available for pre-order on amazon so I will be staying on top of this series now. Oh, and I should read the novel Peter and Max early in 2011 to be entirely caught up (being the completist that I am)!